Meet the researcher – Q&A with Dr Emma Field

March 6, 2019

Epidemiologist, Dr Emma Field, explains her work with communities in Australia and the Asia–Pacific region and why some communities are at higher risk during infectious disease outbreaks.

What is your role with Menzies School of Health Research and the Australian National University (ANU)?

I am an APPRISE Early Career Researcher with Menzies School of Health Research. I am also a Research Fellow at the Research School the National Centre of Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU. My research focuses on infectious disease epidemiology in the Asia–Pacific Region and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations in Australia. At ANU, I am also a lecturer and supervisor for the Master of Philosophy (Applied Epidemiology) Program.

What made you choose to work in the field of infectious diseases epidemiology?

Prior to working in epidemiology, I was a microbiologist working in research and routine pathology laboratories. I enjoyed this work but found I was more interested in the bigger picture. So I studied a Master degree in Public Health but found it difficult to get employment in the area without experience. I was given the opportunity to make the transition from the laboratory to field epidemiology through the Master of Applied Epidemiology Program.

Why do some communities or populations have a higher risk of being affected by infectious disease emergencies?

A combination of factors can contribute to a higher risk of infectious disease emergencies for some populations.

Infectious disease epidemiology can be best visualised through the epidemiological triangle of:

  • the agent – the bug causing infection
  • the host – in this case humans
  • the environment that brings the agent and host together.

Some populations may be at higher risk of infectious diseases via risk factors or risk behaviours of the host. Environmental factors can also create higher risk for infectious diseases through the presence of vectors (such as mosquitos) that spread disease, overcrowded housing and poor water and sanitation.

Why is it important to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and health services to prepare for infectious disease events?

It is always important for researchers to work closely with communities and relevant health services. It is vital that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and health services are involved in the planning and implementation of strategies to prevent, contain and mitigate infectious disease events to ensure that strategies are both feasible and culturally appropriate.

How is the ASEAN-Australia Health Security Fellowship Program helping to improve Australia’s contribution to health security in the Indo–Pacific region?

The ASEAN-Australia Health Security Fellowship Program provides opportunities for:

  • budding field epidemiologists from a number of ASEAN countries to undertake the Master of Philosophy (Applied Epidemiology) (the MAE) at ANU, while completing their field placement in their home country
  • for Australians who are keen to undertake the MAE with a placement in ASEAN countries.

Through completing projects in disease surveillance, data analysis, outbreak investigation and epidemiological research, these fellows will contribute to strengthening capacity for infectious disease surveillance and response in the region.


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